My 8th grade son has been struggling at school this year. It is nothing huge, he just seems to be butting heads with some of the teachers. Not a week goes by that I don’t get a call or email about a little something: “You son refuses to take off his hood.” “Your son has been talking too much during class.” “Your son did not complete the assignment in class today.”
Honestly, I have been frustrated with him– really frustrated, and I have let him know. These emails leave me feeling angry at him and frankly, a bit embarrassed. Why can’t he pull it together and just get his work done, stay under the radar, and take his darn hood off during class?
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There have been times when these little notices have ruined my entire day. I feel like I am doing something wrong, and as soon as I pick my son up from school, I lay into him, telling him his phone privileges are gone, and hanging out with friends over the weekend is not going to happen. He knows I am angry with him, and in turn, he becomes angry with me.
The punishments and his flustered mother did not make the emails stop. They certainly did not make him suddenly start working harder, either. I was at my wit’s end. I knew the things that were happening at school could have been much worse, but I also knew if they didn’t stop, he might think he could get away with being even more disrespectful, so I decided to try something different, and it worked.
About a month ago I got another email; it was about him being too social while he was supposed to be working. Instead of getting after him as soon as he stepped into the car, I asked him what was going on in the class and how I could help. He was surprised I wasn’t angry at him. Her told me he didn’t understand the work, and instead of asking for help, he distracts himself by talking to his friends.
I didn’t get mad. I didn’t point fingers. I didn’t take away his phone, or friend privileges. I just listened. It was hard, but I wanted to try something different.
Then I told him he needed to ask the teacher for help, he needed to ask me for help, and if he still didn’t understand the work, we could email the teacher together and come up with a plan.
He then told me he keeps his hood up because he doesn’t like his hair; it is curly and he is self-conscience. So we went out and bought him some hair products, and now he feels better, and doesn’t hide behind his hood (in the classroom, anyway).
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I haven’t gotten one email or complaint since that day. My son needed to know I had his back, and my support, and I wasn’t going to be angry with him all the time. It felt like a never-ending cycle. He was mad he got punished, he didn’t feel heard, so he would act up in class.
And I was able to realize his acting out was really a cry for help, and he needed to be heard. It was hard for him to communicate what was going on inside his teenage brain, and there is nothing wrong with him because of it.
I had to let go of the idea I was a pushover if I did not punish him every time I got a note or email from a teacher. Of course, there are always exceptions, at 13, I do expect him to treat others with kindness and respect. There is no excuse for bullying, or disrespecting a teacher during class. But the way I was going about it was not helping anyone at all.
There isn’t a day that goes by now that I don’t tell him I am proud of him. I know school doesn’t come easy to him, and so it’s normal for him to want to tune out, hide under his hood, and talk to his friends instead of paying attention. For some kids, this isn’t difficult, but for my son, it takes some willpower to stay on task, and I want him to know I recognize his efforts.
I am certainly not saying I will never punish him for acting out in class if it happens again, but I am going to remain calm and try and communicate with him in a productive manner, because I have seen first hand it is so much more effective for both of us.
The teachers have noticed a difference, too. So if NOT disciplining and attacking my son when he acts up during class, and listening to him instead, works better for all involved, that is what I will keep doing.
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The author of this post has decided to remain anonymous.